Savoring Sicily

Have you been to Sicily yet? Have you considered going? Sure, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples are great, but standard tourist sights. I’m not saying skip any of those, but I don’t know why Sicily hasn’t become a HOT destination. In fact, the only types of tourists I met were from Eastern European countries, students/Erasmus students, or Italians (from the it’s larger counterpart). In this post I’ll detail my favorite Sicilian destinations.

To be honest, before I committed to a Workaway program at a hostel in Catania, I never thought much about visiting Sicily.

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View of Mount Etna smoking from a terrace in Catania, Sicily (2013)

My first introduction to Sicily was when I was younger. After my dad recounted the story of my great grandfather leaving an obscure village in southern Italy called Bocchigliero, he pointed a finger to an island off of Italy’s foot on a map. He warmly referred to Sicily as Italy’s soccer ball (or should I say football? Sorry, I am American after all).

Sicily is nestled within the Mediterranean and offers beautiful beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, delicious wines (please try Nero, like now), and fascinating archaeological sites. Sicily is a blend of ancient cultures because the island was conquered only a few times (ie. the Spanish, French, Greeks, Germans, Italians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Phoenicians, Arabs, and British). These conquests are evident in their architecture and historical sites. If you’re interested in learning more about Sicily’s history, visit here – the material is broken down in a digestible manner.

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Smoke emitting from Mount Etna’s crater

Recommended Sites to visit in Sicily

  1. Catania
    • Located on the eastern part of the island, and is the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo. I’m biased about Catania because of my month-long Workaway at a hostel mere steps away from its most prominent square, Piazza del Duomo. In the this square is the Catania Cathedral are great cafes, the Fontana dell’Elefante, and the daily Fish Market. Nearby is a lengthy shopping strip, the University of Catania, and Bellini’s theatre. This place is an Art Historian’s fantasy because of the breath-taking baroque architecture. There’s also a variety of places that feature live music and nightlife and because of the students.
  2. Mount Etna
    • The largest, active volcano in Europe. Yes, I hiked all the way up and back down the volcano. Yes, it was arguably one of the most physically taxing things I have ever done, and yes I wanted to die. Was it worth it? Yes! I value this photo because it shares my accomplishment. If you hike it, wear good shoes that don’t ‘breathe’ – the volcanic rock and debris will sneak into your shoes and become incredibly uncomfortable after hours of trekking.  Also take it easy if you’re not used to that kind of altitude. It sits 10,991 feet above sea level.
  3. Agrigento Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
    • A UNESCO Heritage site dedicated to 7 Greek deities – Zeus, Juno, Heracles, Concordia, Asclepius, Pollux, and Vulcan.
  4. Taormina
    • This town is also on Sicily’s eastern coastline. Taormina is known for its incredible beach, Isola Bella, and its ancient Greek Theatre. It’s Old Town is quaint to explore, and provides picturesque sights to enjoy a glass or two of wine.
  5. Scala dei Turchi
    • A natural limestone rock formation on the coast of Realmonte. Since we took local transportation and walked to Scala dei Tuchi, it was a little difficult for us to find it. While the sunset was incredible, it’s best to go early in the day because we missed our last bus and hitchhiked back to the bus station.
  6. Alcantara Gorges
    • This gorge is very close to Mount Etna, and approximately an hour long drive from Catania. The gorge was crafted thousands of years ago by the volcano’s lava, and the river that winds through the gorge cut into the hardened rock to create it’s textural geometric appearance. Although I went during a humid autumn day, when the cold evening settled in, I saw the best starry sky. Also, please be careful of leeches!
    • You can find more detail about this site in a previous post.

If you’ve travelled to Sicily before, comment with some of your favorite spots! I’d love recommendations.

Scala dei Turchi
Scala dei Turchi

3 Days in Ibiza – Off Season

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Dalt Vila – Ibiza Old Town

On our first day– we wandered around Ibiza Old town or Dalt Vila, which is a recognized UNESCO site. We received complimentary maps with walking routes at the tourist office in the centre. The old town is vibrant with pale colors, turquoise harbor views, and medieval architecture. The main castle is from 16th century and it’s one of the main sites but there are various bastions peppered along the cobblestoned pathways, Baluard de Sant Bernat, Baluard de Sant Jaume, Baluard de Sant Pere, Baluard de Sant Joan, and  Baluard de Sant Taules. The panoramic views of the Med and the city below are absolutely breathtaking. During the late afternoon, we took a ferry over to Formentera, a neighboring island. Honestly the boat ride alone was worth it by itself. There are views of Dalt Vila, Es Vedra, and many other parts of the island with dramatic slopes and sandy cliffs. The island itself was more quiet than Ibiza itself. Unfortunately the island was larger than we perceived – we didn’t have enough time to rent bikes, and the water was infested with red tide.

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View near Cova de can Marca of Sant Miguel

During the second day – we rented a car. We started out at the northwest part of the island at Cova de can Mara. Although history about the cave was intriguing, I wouldn’t recommend the bioluminescent cave. During the tour there was a light show intended to impress the visitors -except we all stood there confused. The cave cost 10 euros and last about 20 minutes. When I left – I felt scammed. Anyways – we went to eat lunch at the nearby beach, Sant Miguel. Next, we passed through the  port of San Antoni as we headed along the coast to the hippie area of Cala d’Hort, which offers expansive views of Es Vedra. As the folklore goes – Es Vedra is known to attract a lot of oddities (seek more information here). It’s the third most magnetized place on the planet. At the end of our day, we went the sunset coast and sat along a cliff’s edge to watch the sun set in the sky at Sunset Ashram in Cala Conta (Cala Comte). In fact, the parking lot overlooking the coast was the busiest spot we encountered during our road-trip.

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At Cala d’Hort with Es Vedra in the background

Since we flew out late in the afternoon on our third day, the first part was dedicated to relaxing on the beach in Talamanca. We caught the bus there and walked our way back to Ibiza’s port to catch the bus to the airport. In comparison to the various beaches explored the day earlier,  I wasn’t as impressed. Despite the nearby sounds of construction (off-season), I did enjoy myself and dozed off during while sun-bathing (sunblock was applied). 

Personally – I’m glad I didn’t go to Ibiza during its peak tourist season. I enjoy dancing – but I know during the summer the clubs are active. If I did go back during the tourist season, I would like to check out the Zoo Project. The sunny island was a necessary reprieve, before tackling our remaining finals.

Here are 5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza during the Off Season

5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza in the Off Season

At the end of my final semester in March I visited Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. One of my European friends inwardly cringed and demanded why I was going during the ‘winter’ season and not waiting for summer (ie. May to possibly September). She claimed it would be cold and there would be nothing to do, however this was not the case at all.

  1. Obviously – costs are relatively inexpensive (approx. 40-60£) compared to the tourist season (approx 128-275£). Ryanair offered an impressive last minute flight from the UK that was too good to ignore. However the lack of sun in Scotland provided additional incentive to book the trip. We found there were a variety of accommodations with fair prices.

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    Canons overlooking Old Town in Dalt Vila
  2. With a lack of tourists, the atmosphere is quiet, as opposed to coming during prime travel season (summer) in which all of the clubs are in full effect. When we visited for a few days – the vast majority of fellow traverlers were families. Areas like Dalt VilaPort San Miguel and Cala d’Hort were calm with few people. Honestly – it was the true essence of a reprieve.

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    Es Vedra photographed from Cala d’Hort Beach
  3. At the finale of March, we wore our bathing suits on the beach. In fact, I returned to Glasgow with a cherry nose and honeyed skin. At between 60-75°F, the days were comfortable enough to wear a tank paired with a skirt or shorts, but the evenings required a light jacket or jumper at around 55°F.

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    Sun slowly setting at Cala Comte on the sunset coastline
  4. During our stay, we rented a car for less than 50 euros for a full 24 hours through Avis, which included full insurance.  Most tourist sites aren’t accessible without a car. Between the two of us it was cheaper to book a car than to go on a tour that only went to 1-2 sites. We toured Cova de Can MarcaPort de San Miguel beachSan Antoni, Cala d’Hort to view Es Vedra, and Cala Comte (Cala Conte). The roads were not crowded, besides near Dalt Vila, and the majority of people were locals driving to work. This was ideal as we had downloaded the maps on my friend’s iPad, however whenever we lost satellite (85% of the journey) we relied on the combination of my roadmap, the road signs, and asked locals for directions with my basic understand of Spanish.

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    Ibiza Old Town from ferry ride to island of Formentera
  5. Although most clubs aren’t yet open during the spring – there were parties, spring festivals, and open shops around Dalt Vila. We weren’t at a loss of things to do for the duration of 3 days. I detail our 3 day itinerary in this (post), however we wished we had an additional night to visit more of the island.

However, here are somethings to keep in mind before booking a trip during the off season…

  1. Hotels or low-key shops outside of Ibiza’s immediate city centre/Old Town might be closed until summer or under construction.
  2. The busses are far and fewer in between. Instead of coming every half hour, they were scheduled to come every hour, however the busses were often late with a nonchalant tranquillo attitude. We stayed outside of Ibiza at a beach front accommodation in Playa d’en Bossa, and felt stranded whenever the bus refused to show.
  3. If you want to do sightseeing outside of Ibiza and its immediate centre, you will require a car. The bus system near Ibiza remains close to the heart of its central tourist hub. WARNING: some roads along the coastline are winding, which may make individuals susceptible to motion sickness feel ill (guilty).

Check out my 3 day itinerary here 🙂

Sevilla, Cadiz, and Faro…

I visited Spain and briefly, Portugal for an extended weekend. A lot of blogs and pages online boast the beauty of the Andalucía region – and I’m promising you, it’s truly real.

1915381_10154299839148797_5739749941750990359_nFriday, December 18, was primarily dedicated to travel time. After my flight from Edinburgh to Faro, I took a bus from Faro Portugal to Sevilla Spain. At nightfall, I arrived in Sevilla. While the holiday lights that adorned lanterns shed light on the cobblestone streets, I weaved through the festive buzz of people. The rush of the city’s energy was enthralling. I didn’t want to stop exploring the nightlife. While in Plaza San Francisco, children and parents busily darted between the miniature ice skating rink to grab a candied surprise from a nearby vendor, or ride the carousel. Plaza Nueva was donned in lights and hosted a Christmas Market with a variety of artists.

 

On Saturday, I visited the Alcazar Castle complex – the architecture, the detailed tile-work, stonework, and the gardens are impeccable. I spent around 3 hours here, and I can say that I didn’t see everything!

 

I paid to go into Cathedral de Sevilla, saw Christopher Columbus’ tomb and walked around Patio de Los Naranjes. However, I didn’t pay the extra fee to check out La Giralda.

On Sunday, I took a day trip to Cadiz. Although I only spent a day in Cadiz, I saw both the historic and the new portions of the city. The highlights of my trip we’re seeing the Plaza de Mina, Plaza de Espana, the Catedral, and Santo Domingo. In mid December it’s not quite warm enough to lie on the beach in a bathing suit, but I was more than content to have a sweater on, and enjoy the ocean’s breeze on the edge of the pier. Since Glasgow repeatedly suffered through bad spells of weather, I spent most of my time relaxing in the sun. Nearing the end of my time in Cadiz day, a storm rolled in over the coastline.

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11224150_10154299847928797_4590554650208742574_nAfter I returned from Cadiz, I went to Aire de Sevilla. It may be overpriced and touristy, but I wanted to try it! They offer a wine bath – which I didn’t do, but my package was for the typical time in the various types of baths (ice, normal, jets, salt, and arouma therapy) accompanied by a 30 minute massage. It was crowded and full of mostly couples, however I was able to relax. My favorite bath had to be the salt, which is downstairs. It feels as if you’re entering a grotto, and it appeared to be the least popular with the crowd that evening.

Monday morning, when I left Spain to return to Faro, Portugal, I knew I would be back soon, since I want to see Granada and Córdoba in the Andalucía region. In May, I will be visiting Spain again to see a friend from home, who is seeing his sister while she is studying abroad in Madrid. I plan to take the train to Barcelona for a few days too.

 

Faro is a quaint little town with a historic district, and vandalized with lots and lots of graffiti. It’s especially relaxing around the harbor, and I spent some of my afternoon reading down there. I slept at Casa d’Algoa in a 6 person, but lucked out since I was the only one. I’m not antisocial, but a week earlier I finished my first semester as a postgrad student, and was amidst completing two final papers during my holiday; I was undeniably fatigued. I didn’t necessarily dislike Faro, but perhaps I was a little bored. I’d recommend if you visit Faro, you may find Praia de Faro more enjoyable, however due to my timing, I couldn’t.

24 Hours in Copenhagen

On a whim last week, I booked an inexpensive flight to Copenhagen from Edinburgh for 1 day. So much has happened over the past week (my 24th birthday, the death of my grandfather, American Thanksgiving, and handed in 1 postgraduate final paper), that I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, but to be honest – I was due for a much needed a distraction from reality. Copenhagen was perfect for just that. I’m very content with everything I saw – albeit, I didn’t see it all! I left Sunday morning and returned to the UK during Monday afternoon.

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Copenhagen was all dressed up with festive lights and their Christmas markets were open! It cheered me up to see so many happy people. I wandered through the shops on Stroget. It’s the longest shopping street in Europe and there’s something for everyone. I was able to see the Rundertaarn too, but it was closed. I heard there’s a better view from another rounder tower, Church of Our Savior.

The main site I had to see was Nyhavn. It’s the infamous harbor area with colored houses and schooners peppering its canal. I paid 40kroner (around 4£) for a cruise around the canals that lasted an hour. It was worth it and I throughly enjoyed it. Everyone says don’t stop at the first one – which is true! The first one was 80kr. Unfortunately we saw so much I can’t remember it all and the tour didn’t offer any pamphlets. It was chilly on the boat, but I kept switching between seats with an open and shut window for the sake of photo opportunities and warmth. Some of the most notable icons I remember are, the Royal Danish Old and New homes, the Kastellet, the Opera House, the Ship Museum that accidentally blew up some holiday homes a few years ago, Christianshavns, and the Little Mermaid Statue!

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The boat itself was quite long and short, but I was very impressed with the captain’s ability to maneuver through the claustrophobic canals. I remember holding my breath and inwardly cheering whenever we successfully moved onto the next set of neighborhoods.

Please comment and let me know what I should see the next time I return! I spied Tivoli from outside and wanted to walk explore Christiana too. Next time?!